NNA – The bodies of some of the seven US navy sailors missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship off the east coast of Japan have been found.
US and Japanese ships and aircraft launched a huge air and sea search for the crew but “a number of bodies” were found on Sunday in the flooded quarters of the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald, the US 7th fleet said in a statement.
“As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision, the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments,” it said.
“They are currently being transferred to naval hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified. The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the sailors will be released after all notifications are made.”
The Fitzgerald, with the help of tugboats, had arrived back at its home port of Yokosuka naval base, south of Tokyo, on Saturday evening. The other vessel involved in the pre-dawn collision, the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, berthed at Tokyo’s Oi wharf, where its crew was questioned by investigators.
Three people aboard the destroyer were medically evacuated, including Commander Bryce Benson, who was reportedly in a stable condition after being airlifted to the US naval hospital at the Yokosuka base, the navy said. The other two injured crew members were treated at the hospital for cuts and bruises.
The US 7th Fleet said the collision damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the ship’s radio room. Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard the Fitzgerald would have been asleep at the time of the incident.
Water had to be pumped out of flooded areas before the crushed mid-right side of the ship could be searched, the statement said.
“This has been a difficult day,” said vice-admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet on Saturday. “I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew. Now that the ship is in Yokosuka, I ask that you help the families by maintaining their privacy as we continue the search for our shipmates.”
Rear-admiral Charles Williams, commander of the naval taskforce in the area, said: “I want to highlight the extraordinary courage of the Fitzgerald sailors who contained the flooding, stabilised the ship, and sailed her back to Yokosuka despite the exceptionally trying circumstances.”
Donald Trump tweeted thanks to Japan for its assistance in the search mission, saying: “Thoughts and prayers [are] with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families.”
Initial fears that the guided missile destroyer was at risk of sinking receded after US navy officials said flooding in three damaged sections of the vessel had been brought under control.
While the cause of the accident has yet to be determined, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said the ACX Crystal had made a sharp turn shortly before the collision.
Nippon Yusen KK, the Japanese company that charters the container ship, said in a statement it would cooperate fully with the coastguard’s investigation. All 20 Filipino crew members aboard the ship were safe, it added.
Japanese and US officials were discussing how to conduct the investigation. Japan is permitted to investigate since the collision happened in its waters, but under the countries’ status of forces agreement the US has primary jurisdiction over incidents involving vessels such as the Fitzgerald. —The Guardian